TAMPA, Fla. – There is new proof your genes may hold the key to whether or not you have a higher risk of developing cancer. Moffitt Cancer Center researchers took part in a major international study published today in Nature Genetics that identified 12 new genetic variants associated with an increased risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer, the most common and dangerous type of the disease. Epithelial cancer develops in the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovaries. This type of cancer accounts for almost 90 percent of all ovarian cancer cases.

An estimated one in 75 women will develop ovarian cancer during her lifetime. When a patient is diagnosed and treated in the early stages of the disease, the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent. But only about 20 percent of all cases are caught this soon. Due to non-specific symptoms and lack of early detection tests for ovarian cancer, most patients have progressed beyond stage I or II at time of diagnosis. If caught in stage III or higher, the survival rate can be as low as 28 percent.

The new study is from the OncoArray Consortium, a collaborative effort that includes more than 400 scientists from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.

Prior to this study, researchers had identified 27 common genetic variants associated with ovarian cancer risk. Together, those variants account for roughly four percent of inherited risk for the disease.

The OncoArray Consortium studied the genomes of more than 25,000 epithelial ovarian cancer patients and compared the information with nearly 41,000 healthy controls. The researchers also analyzed results from 31,000 BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers, which included almost 4,000 epithelial ovarian cancer patients. This resulted in the identification of 12 new genetic variants associated with ovarian cancer risk and the confirmation 18 previously published variants.

In total, there are now 30 known generic variants associated with ovarian cancer risk, accounting for 6.5 percent of the inherited risk.

“At Moffitt, we have long recognized the value of multidisciplinary care for our patients, and we are making research advances through team science,” said Moffitt Center Director Thomas A. Sellers, Ph.D., M.P.H.  “This latest finding is further proof that progress in the prevention and cure of cancer requires collaboration, as this involved pooling more than 60 independent studies from around the world.” 

“Ovarian cancer is clearly a very complex disease. The 30 risk variants that we now know about account for just a small fraction of the inherited component; there will likely be many more genetic variants involved, each with extremely small effects,” says Catherine Phelan, M.D., Ph.D., MMS, associate member of the Cancer Epidemiology Program at Moffitt. “We now need to take a closer look at the effect these variants have at the molecular and cellular levels. If we can understand how they work, we can improve treatment options and work towards the prevention of ovarian cancer.”

The OncoArray Consortium used a customized Illumina genotyping array, which allowed them to analyze nearly 533,000 variants and has been used to genotype more than 500,000 samples, including the samples in this study of ovarian cancer


Phelan, CM et al. Identification of twelve novel susceptibility loci for different histotypes of epithelial 1 ovarian cancer. Nature Genetics; 27 Mar 2017; DOI: 10.1038/ng.3826

About Moffitt Cancer Center
Moffitt is dedicated to one lifesaving mission: to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer. The Tampa-based facility is one of only 47 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, a distinction that recognizes Moffitt’s excellence in research, clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Moffitt is the No. 6 cancer hospital in the nation and has been listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of the “Best Hospitals” for cancer care since 1999. Moffitt devotes more than 2.5 million square feet to research and patient care. Moffitt’s expert nursing staff is recognized by the American Nurses Credentialing Center with Magnet® status, its highest distinction. With more than 5,200 team members, Moffitt has an economic impact in the state of $2.1 billion. For more information, call 1-888-MOFFITT (1-888-663-3488), visit MOFFITT.org, and follow the momentum on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube